The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece

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9780887842221: The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece

The remarkable story of six suites composed for cello by J.S. Bach in the early 1700s, Eric Siblin's new book is at once a study of music, a work of history, and a passionate tribute. Siblin, the former pop music critic for the MontrealGazette, points out that despite their baroque origin, the suites have over time been interpreted, re-interpreted, adapted, and updated by countless musicians for contemporary audiences, thus becoming some of the most recognizable, enduring, and beloved classical music pieces in history. Their composition and popularization, however, remain shrouded in mystery. As an ardent newcomer to the Cello Suites himself, eager to uncover the story behind the celebrated music, Siblin chronicles the suites' rise to fame.
The story surroundingThe Cello Suitesinvolves uncertainties about when and how they were composed, whether they were originally intended for the cello, how much influence Bach's second wife had on their composition, and what happened to Bach's original manuscript. Siblin's curiosity and passion for his subject is evident throughout, and his method of structuring the story according to the arrangement of the music is inspired: there are six chapters representing the six suites, and each chapter contains six sub-chapters corresponding to the six movements in each suite. By devoting space in each chapter first to J.S. Bach, then to Spanish cellist Pablo Casals (whose relationship to the Cello Suites resembles Glenn Gould's to The Goldberg Variations), and finally to his own present-day investigation into the story of the suites, Siblin effectively ties together centuries of music history.
Meticulous in his research, as evidenced by copious notes and resources collected over his travels to several European countries, Siblin makes convincing connections and offers possible answers to the questions surrounding the suites. In the process, he sheds considerable light on the lives of Bach and Casals as they negotiated the social, cultural, and political landscapes of, respectively, Germany during the reign of the Holy Roman Empire, and Europe during the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. If Siblin is correct that ôBach is what you make of him,ö thenThe Cello Suiteshas made him, if possible, yet more legendary.

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About the Author:

Eric Siblin is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker, and the former pop music critic at the Montreal Gazette. The Cello Suites is his first book.

Review:

This is one of the most extraordinary, clever, beautiful, and impeccably researched books I have read in years. A fascinating story deftly told and, for me at least, ideally read with Bach’s thirty-six movements playing softly in the background; a recipe for literary rapture.” Simon Winchester, author of the New York Times best-seller The Professor and the Madman

Vividly chronicles [Siblin’s] international search for the original, and unfound, Bach score Mr. Siblin’s book is well researched, and filled with enough anecdotes to engage even the classical-music aficionado but the book is best distinguished by its writing. To vivify music in words is not easy. But Mr. Siblin rises to the task Read The Cello Suites preferably with their melodious hum in the background and you will never look at a cello in quite the same way again.” The Economist

This is rich terrain, and Siblin’s book is an engrossing combination of musical and political history spiced with generally vivid descriptions of the cello suites themselves [Siblin] has given us a compelling portrait of a passionate, prickly Bach, of Casals, a musician who was also politically engaged, and an engrossing cast of secondary characters. Best of all, The Cello Suites makes us want to pop in a CD and really listen to those cello suites. Awesome.” Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times

A work of ever-percolating interest. Mr. Siblin winds up mixing high and low musical forms, art and political histories, Bach’s and Casals’s individual stories and matters of arcane musicology into a single inquisitive volume.” Janet Maslin, The New York Times

The ironies of artistic genius and public taste are subtly explored in this winding, entertaining tale of a musical masterpiece Siblin is an insightful writer with an ability to convey the sound and emotional impact of music in words.” Publishers Weekly

Engaging and imaginative a charming narrative.” Melinda Bargreen, The Seattle Times

The author has done a wealth of research in pursuit of his new passion, and he writes engagingly this intrepid writer has worked hard to interest readers in his musical obsession, and there is a great deal to chew on here.” Priscilla S. Taylor, he Washington Times

It’s not often that one begins reading a book with mild interest and then can’t put it down, which happened to me with this beautiful book.” Diana Athill, author of Stet and Somewhere Towards the End

pitch-perfect The Cello Suites is, on all counts, a superior book.”
-QWF McAuslan First Book Prize Jury citation

an ambitious, carefully researched, and inventively constructed book written with clarity and verve.” Mavis Gallant Prize for Nonfiction Jury Citation

A delightfully quirky quest Eric Siblin seamlessly weaves together the tale of how Bach’s lost and mostly forgotten manuscript came to be discovered a century later by Pablo Casals, and finally became Siblin’s personal passion.” Governor General’s Literary Award Jury Citation

A book of extraordinary charm, insight, and widespread literary appeal.” BC National Award for Canadian Nonfiction Jury Citation

Siblin firmly believes Bach is what you make of him’ and his book represents just that No matter what the great composer means to readers, they will surely enjoy Siblin’s fun, fast-paced journey from pop-music scribbler to Bach aficionado.” Christian Science Monitor

A book that will fascinate anyone who loves Bach’s music. . .engaging. . .Many of the facts woven into textual fabric glitter like metal threads as Siblin shifts the reader’s focus from one protagonist to the other. The result are rich depictions of Bach in his 18th-century milieu and Casals in his 20th-century sphere. . . The author’s colorful prose conveys substantial charm, and reveals a first-rate travel writer’s sense of place. . .sets biographical and musicological details neatly in context.” David Lander, Stereophile

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